Earlier this month, seven men and women sitting on a federal jury in San Jose, California unanimously found in favor of Mark Pajas Sr., 56, who died while in custody of the Monterey County Jail on January 20, 2015. The jury found that the county of Monterey did, in fact, violate Pajas’ right to adequate medical care under the United States Constitution when Monterey County Sheriff’s Office deputies failed to adequately monitor Mr. Pajas as he detoxed from heroin, resulting in Pajas’ death within twenty hours of his arrival at the Monterey County Jail in January of 2015.
When Pajas arrived at the Monterey County Jail, he immediately and repeatedly notified custody and medical staff that he was a heroin user and needed medical help during withdrawal. Despite the fact that Pajas was placed in a sobering cell that is designated for detoxing detainees, deputies violated Jail policy that requires that safety checks be completed every fifteen minutes for detainees in sobering cells. Jail officials admitted that even though these steps were necessary to prevent harm to detainees in Jail custody, they knew from their own internal audits were routinely being skipped at the time Pajas was in the jail.
A safety check was performed on Pajaswhile in his sobering cell at 1:45 p.m. on January 20, 2015. Less than 30 minutes later at 2:14 p.m., he was unconscious ion his cell, face down in a pool of his own vomit. At trial, defendants’ medical expert admitted that if Jail staff had conducted the required safety checks, Mr. Pajas would likely be alive today.
Despite the fact that the County of Monterey contracts a private medical group, the California Medical Group, to provide medical services to the jail, there is still a legal duty to ensure the provision of adequate and necessary medical treatment to persons incarcerated in the Jail.
The seven-person federal jury also found that the County of Monterey deprived Mr. Pajas Sr.’s wife, Rosemary Lopez, and four adult children, Yvette, Janel, Mark Jr., and Xavier, of their familial relationships with Mr. Pajas, and awarded the family $1.6 million in damages. Attorney’s fees will be determined separately by the court.
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